The benefits & limitations of a digital detox.

My husband and I had a lovely, relaxing four-day getaway last week. We took a ferry to Vancouver Island and spent our time nose-deep in books, laughing over meals with friends and walking through rainy forests. All in all, it was delightful—and not one bit of it was documented on Facebook. In part, this was because we’d agreed to do a Facebook detox while we were away. Although we’ve both reduced the time we spend on social media somewhat, over the past few months, I was curious to see what it would be like if we cut the ties more formally for a specified period of time.

Heading into our trip, I assumed we would find it more difficult than we did. We each thought about checking into Facebook a few times over the four days but we didn’t. In some ways, I was surprised at how rarely we did think of it and then, when we did, how easy it was to resist. But, I should have known that our Facebook detox would not be as challenging as it could have been. Why is that? Well, we were on vacation. We were out of our normal routine. We were engaged most of the time, doing things we enjoyed. And that’s not how we live our ‘normal life.’

I’ve heard similar stories during interviews I’ve done with people about the use of their devices and of social media specifically. They found it less difficult to unplug when they were away on vacation but once they were home, they returned to their regular online habits. One woman said, “when I can get out of my routine or environment, it makes it much easier to make the shift and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on something.” But when she returns, she said, “I slide right back in,” and she’s back online as much as she was before the break.

There are a number of different ways people are trying to break from technology. The typical digital detox involves a set period of time during which people refrain from using their devices. It can be something as simple as someone choosing to unplug for a day to something more significant, such as spending a few nights at a hotel where they confiscate your smartphone or a week-long retreat where all devices are banned. Regardless of the specifics, technology detoxes provide relief from our technology-obsessed culture, however, the relief is temporary.

Digital detoxes are useful for jolting us out of our reverie by helping us understand how much we are tied to the hardware and software that is now an intrinsic part of our lives. They can also provide many health benefits, such as reducing stress and improving sleep. All this is very positive but the reality is that most of us need to, and want to, use technology in our daily lives. Living without it for a long period of time is not realistic. That’s why digital detoxes are not a long-term solution to our digital obsession.

Our interactions with technology have been expanding over time and creating unhealthy habits that can be difficult to break. We are surrounded by digital distractions that often capture our time and attention more than we’d like. For many people, a long-term solution is needed in order to change how they interact with technology. A digital detox is a good place to start if you’re concerned about your use of technology, much like a fast of a cleanse if you’re concerned about your eating habits. It can help you better understand the problem, how serious it is and what your triggers are. From there, you are then better prepared to start creating the change you want. Building new, healthier tech habits takes significant time and effort, if you want those new habits to stick.

I know this all too well as it took me about three months to create a healthier relationship with the technology in my life. But the time and effort was well worth it. It’s allowed me to regain control of my time and attention. I’m no longer wasting time online, distracted by technology. I’m more focused on the things that really matter, leveraging technology when it makes sense and works for me. Now if I could only get my husband to consider a ‘Words With Friends’ detox.


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